White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruction to Montgomery

By Herbert Shapiro | Go to book overview

SIXTEEN
The Emergence of Dr. King

We Charge Genocide was presented to the United Nations at a time when in the United States, traumatized by McCarthyism and cold war fears, the fight for black freedom was thrown on the defensive, gradualism seemingly being the strategy espoused by key segments of black leadership. But in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education the freedom struggle was to take on the character of an offensive. The question of violence presented itself no longer merely as the issue of crimes against an oppressed, long-suffering people but now as the issue of the means employed by racists to frustrate blacks as they moved en masse through constitutional, peaceful means to secure their rights. The overwhelming contrast would be drawn between the sadism of southern police with their cattle prods, clubs, and fire hoses and the determination of blacks who were willing to endure enormous sacrifices in order to attain their rights. Whatever ultimate judgment is made of the nonviolent strategy of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement, it would be a gross error to underestimate the power of that contrast to mobilize national and world public opinion. We Charge Genocide presented the facts of racial violence, but it could not effectively focus world pressure; the visible, massive challenge to segregation initiated in the midfifties, on the other hand, compelled millions throughout the world to drop the posture of indifference and to choose sides between the oppressors and those struggling to be rid of segregation and discrimination. It was now to be made clear, through a movement of remarkable scope and militancy, that the racial status quo could no longer continue in the United States.

The prime articulator of this nonviolent movement was, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. Much has been written about King's career and thought, but it is still true that his life and his place in history have as yet been inadequately studied. There are only two full-length scholarly biographies, and collections of his speeches or letters are yet to appear. The other side of the coin has been the fashionable tendency to denigrate

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